Remember how Under the Dome is supposed to be a drama full of characters, and how those characters interact with each other to help and hinder the small-town community? That's an effective plot element, if only Under the Dome could pull it off correctly. I would say more than half of Stephen King's novel was dedicated not to the unseen menace of the dome but to the ways that the people banded together, working to help each other through their problems while also creating villains out of normally ordinary citizens.
But if "The Fire" is any suggestion of how characters will be developed, it's not very good at all. I wasn't too pleased with the pilot like others were, anyway; it was pretty easy to see through the facade of special effects into the terrible acting and poor dialogue. That hasn't gone away in "The Fire", and if anything it's probably gotten worse. Under the Dome is often rushing things, even in its first episodes, and there's really no reason to think that it will get better as situations escalate.
In "The Fire", Sheriff Duke dies from his explosive pacemaker; this should have been pretty obvious from the first episode, but it takes Linda (Natalie Martinez) a little while to figure this out. Dude, his heart blew up - he's not going to survive that. With Duke gone, the whole town drops into turmoil. "Who's going to lead us!" they cry, and any right-minded individual would probably figure that either Big Jim Rennie's (Dean Norris) got it under control or Barbie (Mike Vogel) could come through in the clutch, but instead all hell breaks loose after Duke's house mysteriously catches on fire with Reverend Lester (Ned Bellamy) inside.
Things just don't jive in Under the Dome. Characters are quite stupid - I mean, Linda simply believes the reverend's story about being in Duke's house to take one of his suits for the funeral, even though that sounds like the single most ridiculous thing I can think of. Others are so flat it feels like they're not there at all, even though this show is meant to be about how every character comes together. The lesbian mothers are shown multiple times throughout this episode as though they're meant to be important to the story, but the only thing they ever manage to do is freak out and come off as way, way overly dramatic.
The same is true of the rest of the secondary cast. In this episode, a police officer freaks out after Duke dies, wondering who will lead the rest of the town. His thoughts? Let's bring a gun, threaten everyone, and then shoot the dome. Who the hell thought that was a good idea, and where did this dude come from. Likewise, the couple of kids from the first episode who actually have some smarts begin charting the dome's positioning after they hear that the walls do in fact stretch around in a circle. But I'm surprised that everyone is so astonished to find that the invisible walls blocking their escape from Chester's Mill are part of a dome. What other kind of trap did you think it could be?
The fire of this episode's title is pretty nonsensical - the way that it begins, the way it's dealt with, and the aftermath of it all. Everything about Under the Dome is super melodramatic and over the top so that any attempt at hitting emotional levels is blocked by an invisible barrier of cheese. I'm not sure how a fiery inferno initially starts, but I'm pretty sure I'd be careful about letting an open flame lick a curtain - and I actually thought, at first, that Lester was doing it on purpose.
And apparently no one's heard of water, because all of the townspeople stare in fascination at the flames wondering what they should do. Now that there's no fire department, they think, I guess we'll just let everything burn. That would make sense with the amount of brain power going on in Chester's Mill.
Under the Dome is going to be a guilty pleasure, the kind of show that you want to say you don't really watch but in fact tune in every week. It's such a hit-or-miss show with its execution and acting that every episode is really a crapshoot; it's obvious that nothing the show does is going to be very effective, but if "The Fire" shows us anything, it's that the show has enough of a budget for special effects even if everything else is a raging inferno of bad.